Sustainability House created the NatHERS Universal Certificate. It was introduced to provide a uniform method of reporting building design elements and assessment results. For more information on the development of the Universal Certificate see here.
This article begins with who can create Certificates and who you ought to have creating yours. From this, we look at past industry practices to give you an idea of why the Universal Certificate is beneficial. Continuing, we discuss the software able to produce Certificates and the requirements for using it.
Residential Building Thermal Performance Assessors (commonly called House Energy Raters) can either be:
- Accredited with an Assessor-Accrediting Organisation (AAO), such as ABSA or BDAV,
- Non-accredited (illegal in some Jurisdictions).
Non-accredited assessors are a diverse group of people. Some may have almost completed their Certificate IV, with only a few assessments yet to complete. Others may have no intention of completing the Certificate IV and plan not to go further with their training. If in doubt, ask a non-accredited assessor if they are enrolled in the Certificate IV and when they think they will finish. This link answers the question of “Why should I become a NatHERS Accredited Assessor?”
In summary, an Accredited Assessor has:
- AAO membership, granting them access to regular newsletters and industry updates
- Successfully completed a Certificate IV NatHERS Assessment (CPP41212), and…
- This includes using current-accredited NatHERS Software, and
- Following the NatHERS Technical Note Version 1.2
- Signature recorded by the AAO signifying agreement to the Code of Practice
- Professional Indemnity Insurance – protecting the client in the unlikely event of a mistake
- Continuing Professional Development support and training, including Annual reporting
- Participation in the AAO Quality Assurance Program, including Stamping of Plans
- Ongoing support and technical assistance, including NatHERS Software Technical Notes advice
Before the Universal Certificate
Prior to the introduction of the NatHERS Universal Certificate, the format & information contained in reports could vary greatly between Assessors. However every report had to include three main parts from the information provided:
a) The building element specifications, used in the calculations (for accountability)
b) The Rating Certificate
c) Stamped plans, with a traceable stamp (to verify authenticity)
The report could be generated in two different ways:
• By the Assessor with the Software, or
• From a web-based system, linked to the software file.
Historically, the variety of Assessors producing could have included:
- Accredited Assessor fully following the Code of Practice.
- Accredited Assessor partly following the Code of Practice.
- A software-generated building element report and Certificate.
- A manually-generated building element report/list & software-generated Certificate.
- A manually-generated building element report/list & manually-generated Certificate.
- A software-generated Certificate.
- A manually-generated Certificate.
Predictably, Accredited Assessors following codified procedures produced the most reliable, consistent and high quality reports.
The risk of an unsatisfactory, unsuitable or incorrect assessment result increases as we go down the list. Buildings that perform worse than expected can lead to a discontented client and may increase the amount of artificial heating and cooling energy used by the occupier in order to compensate.
SOFTWARE LICENCE CONDITIONS
All three NatHERS-Accredited software packages contain a Licence Agreement, which the Assessor has to accept/agree before downloading. Of particular importance are the following sections:
Licensee acknowledges and agrees that the summary diagnostic report referred to in paragraph 1(c) above does not constitute a Thermal Performance Certificate for the purposes of demonstrating compliance with the thermal performance requirements of the National Construction Code (and Licensee must not represent to any person that any such summary diagnostic report constitutes such a certificate).
THERMAL PERFORMANCE CERTIFICATES
On completion of a thermal performance assessment, Licensee may choose to upload the relevant project file(s) generated by the assessment to Licensee’s account on the FirstRate5 website (Website) and may request Sustainability Victoria to generate one or more Thermal Performance Certificates….”
What Does this Mean?
The Universal Certificate has a fee which is applicable to all assessments for Building Approval. By obtaining the Universal certificate without paying this fee, the CSIRO and Software providers are denied the money used to support the supply and development of the NatHERS Software.
Data matching with software providers, government agencies & AAOs can reveal assessors who are “gaming” the system and breaching the terms of their software licence. This can result in penalties including loss of software support services and withdrawal of the software user licence. Assessors should be careful to not risk losing access to the software on which their livelihood depends.
If an assessment outcome is unsatisfactory – i.e.: the building does not Comply with the relevant Code Requirement – there may be a claim against the Assessor’s Professional Indemnity Insurance. Supporting an assessor who is in breach of their Software Licence Conditions may result in a claim against Professional Indemnity Insurance of the Building Control Authority/Certifier/Surveyor.
If a Residential Energy Rating (of the whole house) does not include a Universal Certificate then the assessor should be asked, “Why is there no Universal Certificate?”. The Building Surveyor or Construction Approval Authority should return the assessment to the House Energy Rater because the rating is incomplete.
NatHERS designed the Universal Certificate to standardise the format and information in reports across the market. The Certificate contains all the main information that affects the outcome of the building energy assessment. Because it is in a standardised format, Builders can check the specifications of building materials and Certifiers can check these were installed.
In summary, the NatHERS Universal Certificate helps ensure the building constructed meets the Requirements. It helps protect the Industry from misunderstandings and missing information. It helps building practitioners do their job better. Utilising Assessors who use unscrupulous means to avoid paying fees damages not only the development and maintenance of crucial software, but puts your professional reputation at risk.